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Loving them back to health

I recently had the privilege of meeting Paul Weindling, a scholar who has written a marvellously sensitive and meticulous biography of psychiatrist John W Thompson (1906-1965). Thompson has been largely forgotten today and I had not heard of him until I read the biography, which makes plain both what an extraordinary man he was and what a huge network of friendships and contacts he had, some of them with legendary figures. Thompson was horrified by what he saw and heard of the Nazi Concentration Camps and, like many others at the time, devoted his life to building a better world. In particular he threw himself passionately into the reform of psychiatric methods of treatment, which had been focussed very much on containment - locked wards, very restricted visiting etc. - along with scary strategies such as lobotomies. Thompson, a very committed convert to Catholicism, practised holistic therapy, focussed on engaging patients as persons and setting out to build a relationship with them. I thought of him when I looked at the story of one of the saints of today, Blessed Candelaria of St Joseph O. Carm (1863-1940). She devoted herself and the Order she founded (The Third Order Regular Carmelite Sisters of Venezuela) to the sick, and it is said of her that 'her solution to even the most difficult patients was to love them back to health'.

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